P lants get old. They get ragged, overgrown and gnarly. They hang over your front door. They have to be pruned every three weeks. They are so ugly and massive that the kids are afraid to go near them for fear that they are some sort of creature straight out of “Harry Potter.” It’s a fact of life that plants don’t last forever – one that is sometimes hard to swallow because they are living, growing things. I have many clients who are afraid to remove something because it’s still alive. Sometimes you just have to pull the plug on a plant and replace it.
Most plants have a lifespan in which they will perform like crazy and then, one day, just start to struggle and peter out. That lifespan depends on many factors and often plants far outlive their expected lifespan, but how do you know when it’s time?
Most foundation shrubs have about a seven- to 10-year life span. Plants like spirea, weigela, potentilla, and roses will do fantastic for that time and then just start to get woody and unkempt. Add in constant trimming and that can affect their shape and aesthetics. Don’t feel bad if your plants are ugly and you want them gone. They’ve lived their life, and you got your money’s worth. It’s time to let go and replace them with something new. You may even replace them with the same plant, and then you get the next 10 years to enjoy them.
Trees are usually in for the long haul, however, there are some exceptions. Birches in this area tend to have a 30- to 45-year life span. Keep in mind that when your Birch was planted, it was already approximately 10 years old, so if you’ve lived in your house for 20-plus years, it may be on the natural decline. Disease and bug issues also can affect the health of trees. Apple Scab disease on crabapple trees can take some years off of their life. Emerald Ash Borer is killing the ash trees in the prime of their lives. Some bugs we just can’t fight back against. Fortunately, there are many new introductions in the plant world that have bred out the “bad” qualities in plants. If you have an old crab that continually loses its leaves in summer, replace it with a new variety – such as “red jewel,” which has excellent disease resistance and rarely needs spraying or maintenance.
There also is the cost of maintenance to keep in mind. If you have to continually spray, trim or manipulate a plant, it may not be worth the cost of keeping it. It’s also OK to just not like a plant. Just because the previous owner of your house loved red twig dogwood and surrounded your backyard with them, doesn’t mean you have to keep them. Have them removed for something you like and will do the job you need them to do.
Sometimes you just need a second opinion to help you feel better about removing plants. Bring in some photos to a garden center and its staff can help you decide if you should take them out and which replacements will suit you. Getting new plants will allow you to enjoy them for many more years to come.
Meagan Provencher is the Senior Landscape Designer for Wasco Nursery & Garden Center in St. Charles. She can be reached at 630-584-4424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.